The current literature in social epidemiology and public health suggests that low financial
savings has an unsurprising negative relationship with subjective well-being, and increases
the odds of making visits to a healthcare provider, receiving a chronic disease diagnosis,
and experiencing medical disability. Earn.org is a community-based non-profit based in San
Francisco with a mission to help low-income workers build lifelong savings habits and
financial capability. The organization is one of the largest providers of "goal-based savings
accounts" or "matched savings accounts" in the US. The investigators propose to conduct a
randomized controlled trial to determine the health effects of Earn's savings program.
Through this trial, the investigators will test three principal hypotheses: (1) Participants
in the Earn account, as compared to a control group, are hypothesized to demonstrate improved
scores on mental health scales assessing depression and anxiety.
(2) Participants in the Earn account, as compared to a control group, are hypothesized to
experience lower odds of harmful behaviors associated with stress, specifically tobacco and
alcohol abuse. The investigators hypothesize that the effect on behaviors will be of smaller
effect size, and more delayed, than the effect on mental health outcomes, judging from
similar effects observed in the micro-credit literature.
(3) The mediating variables between Earn account participation and beneficial health outcomes
will include increased optimism and internal locus of control.
The investigators plan to conduct an RCT comparing participants in the new EARN program
against wait-listed control subjects. The program provides low-wage workers with incentives
and rewards for savings. The program involves a web-based platform that permits eligible
savers to create a centralized savings account, which is a secure online account without
fees. The account offers eligible savers small monetary rewards for dollars saved each month.
The investigators plan to conduct a baseline online month 0 survey and a follow-up 6 month
and 12 month online survey among participants and wait-listed nonparticipants, with telephone
follow-up to maximize 6- and 12-month survey completion. The surveys consist of
previously-validated instruments to assess key health behaviors self-reported well-being, and
require approximately 20 minutes each. The surveys includes the CDC Behavioral Risk Factor
Surveillance System scales for assessing demographics and income, overall self-rated health,
tobacco and alcohol use, depression and anxiety symptoms, and optimism and locus of control.
Participants will receive prorated a gift card for each survey, to compensate participants
for their time while avoiding a direct income effect of a cash incentive for participation.
- English-speaking US residents
- ages 18 and older
- below 50% of the area median income
- have a regular Internet connection
- non-English speakers
- non-US residents
- history of or current enrollment in other incentivized savings programs